John Kerry meets Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka

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Colombo, May 3: US Secretary of State John Kerry today met Sri Lanka's top Tamil leaders who briefed him on their assessment of reconciliation efforts by the new government and the road ahead.

Kerry, the first US secretary of state to visit Sri Lanka in a decade, met with Tamil National Alliance leader R Sampanthan and several other senior party officials here.

Tamil Nadu

"Sec. @JohnKerry heard from R Sampathan, CM Wigneswaran and other TNA leaders on their assessment of reconciliation efforts and road ahead," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal tweeted.

Earlier, Kerry praised President Maithripala Sirisena's new government for reaching out to the Tamil minority after the end of the nearly three-decade of ethnic conflict that claimed more than 100,000 lives.

"Peace has come but true reconciliation will take time," Kerry last night told reporters following a bilateral meeting with his Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera. Kerry, who called on President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, said both the Lankan leaders are not afraid of taking "difficult decisions".

"They are willing to make difficult decisions and they are committed to keeping their promises," said Kerry, who wrapped up his two-day visit today.

Since coming to power in January polls, Sirisena has vowed to pursue reconciliation more vigorously than his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was known for his hardline Sinhalese nationalism.

Kerry said that Sri Lanka has extended an invitation to US President Barak Obama to visit the island. When asked if the Lankan thought his visit was due to the US policy of interfering in island's affairs, he said, "they said it was welcome and they look forward to the next visit."

"The US is not here to ask Sri Lanka align with anyone, to refuse to have any other relationship or to involve itself somehow in other kinds of politics," Kerry said, adding that the US was not demanding anything from Sri Lanka.

"We are offering everything that we have suggested is exactly that," he said, underlining the US offer of assistance to assets recovery and enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

He also hinted that the US expects Sri Lanka to release political prisoners, a demand of Tamil minorities.

On human rights issues, Kerry said he told Lankan leaders to work with the Red Cross and the UN in order to investigate the cases of missing persons.

"They talked to me about a truth commission and other efforts, developing the process. And I know they are deeply committed to working this through," Kerry stressed.

Lanka under Rajapaksa was subjected to three consecutive US-backed UN Human Rights Council resolutions, the last of which mandated an international inquiry on alleged rights abuses committed by both government troops and the LTTE.

PTI

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